"Change is coming, but it's really (a question of) how to lower its cost both in terms of human lives and political destruction to the country," Ghadbian said.
Born outside Damascus in 1962, Ghadbian left Syria for the United Arab Emirates as a teenager as some of his friends were being arrested amid political turmoil.
"Knowing that these young people — and these were high school kids or first year in university — spent a precious part of their years in prison ... made me very cognizant of the question of human rights," Ghadbian said. It made him "believe that a government that does not respect its people's human rights is not legitimate and it does not deserve to rule."
Those ideas stuck with Ghadbian as he studied political science at United Arab Emirates University. He went on to earn a master's degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey and a doctorate from the City University of New York.
In 1986, he married Syrian-born writer Mohja Kahf. Nearly a decade later, Kahf got a job teaching literature at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, a college town tucked in the Ozark Mountains about 200 miles northwest of Little Rock.
For the first few years, Ghadbian worked for a government think tank in the United Arab Emirates, with his wife coming to visit for summers and breaks, before he landed a job at the University of Arkansas.
Colleagues say Ghadbian's time in Arkansas — where he is currently on leave from the university — prepared him for his role with the Syrian opposition coalition.
"I know a lot of people who've only spent time in the Washington corridor or on the East Coast, Chicago, places like that, and when we talk about middle America — red, white and blue states — they don't really have their feet on the ground in that respect," said Joel Gordon, who directs University of Arkansas' Middle East studies center. "Najib is someone who strikes me as being well-rooted at this point, well-spoken, thoughtful, kind of a natural-born diplomat."